Taprock Beer Bar & Refuge Elevates The Watering Hole Tradition

Whether Unionville residents know it as the old McGillicuddy's or Fat City, the building at 81 S. Main St. has been home to a town watering hole for decades. The latest business to move in, Taprock Beer Bar & Refuge, continues that tradition, but with a focus on craft beer, distinctive cocktails and elevated comfort food.

"I think that word [refuge] fits this place well; it was always known as that town gathering spot," said owner Ankit Harpaldas. "In my mind, I think that's like an escape from the real world. We want people to come here and enjoy the moment they're in."

Taprock opened in late November after extensive renovations that took more than a year, Harpaldas said. The result is a 144-seat, upscale modern-industrial space with a large centralized bar and a flood of natural light, featuring brick walls, reclaimed wood and exposed duct work.

Harpaldas was virtually raised in the business, as his father has owned and operated several restaurants in the Greater Hartford area, he said. His own career began in New York's financial industry after he graduated from Drexel University in Philadelphia in 2012, but he returned to Connecticut to pursue entrepreneurship opportunities.

Prior to Taprock's opening, he founded Porter21, a locally owned and operated liquor-delivery service, which launched in 2014, and then opened The Greenway Market, a small grocery store in Hartford's 777 Main Street building last November. His family also opened Capital Spirits on nearby Pratt Street.

His work in liquor retail sales helped him decide on Taprock's beer-centric focus, he said. "When I was in New York, I never realized the craft beer revolution that was going on in Connecticut," he said. "When I got involved in the business, the retail side, seeing how much craft beer was moving, it just made sense."

Taprock's bar features 20 draft lines, with a something-for-everyone philosophy: Options range from a few traditional brews like Coors Light to niche pours from small Connecticut breweries, with another 27 beers available in bottles and cans. The list changes frequently.

Guests have also responded well to innovative cocktails ($8.50 to $11) with unusual flavors, spice and infusions. Think gin with raspberry cumin syrup, Earl Grey-infused rum, Fernet-pickled chili and whiskey with honey cherry orange marmalade.

Chef Bryan Burke's restaurant menu is simple —"one page, and that's it," Harpaldas said — but that's intentional, to execute everything well. Small plates ($5 to $11) are made to share, like smoked chicken nachos with salsa verde, falafel tacos on blue corn tortillas, sweet potato hummus, beer-battered shrimp and grits with grilled polenta and gochujang, wings in unique flavors like peach bourbon barbecue and strawberry chipotle. The chili is a revived family recipe, Harpaldas said, dating back to his father's days at Paul's Ranch House in Hartford.

Sliders are best-sellers, available by the single item or in a trio ($3 to $11). Pork belly with hoisin and pickled veggies and shrimp po'boys with remoulade are both served on Asian-style steamed buns, and classic cheeseburgers or cider-braised pulled pork are built on Hawaiian rolls. Then there's Taprock's take on chicken and waffle sliders: fried buttermilk chicken sandwiched between pieces of savory herb waffles, topped with thyme honey.

Burgers ($12 to $15) are served on brioche, featuring the eponymous Taprock burger with caramelized onion jam, crimini mushrooms and aged cheddar; the Apple burger with apple butter, applewood-smoked blue cheese and pork belly lardons; and a root vegetable version with carrot, rutabaga, sweet potato, avocado and chipotle cream. Each comes with the option of side salad or fries in various flavors, including salt and pepper, Old Bay, barbecue, Sriracha or truffle Parmesan.

Four entrees ($19 to $24) are available for those seeking heartier meals, including pan-seared salmon with candied pecan, winter squash, and warm chard and quinoa salad; chicken confit with blue Adirondack potatoes, roasted pumpkin, goat cheese and thyme; root vegetable gnocchi with apple butter and steak frites with compound butter and smoked whiskey sugar.

Harpaldas said Taprock brings another new dining addition to residents of Unionville, but that he's also met several guests from nearby communities, like Avon, Burlington, Canton, Simsbury and Torrington. "The surrounding towns are really supporting [us] too," he said.

For Harpaldas, Taprock represents the exact kind of venue where he would want to hang out, he said. "You won't find loud, blaring music here. ... It's not a dive bar. It's that perfect gathering place, where you can have a conversation with someone and still enjoy your night."

Taprock Beer Bar & Refuge, 81 S. Main St., Unionville, is open daily at 11 a.m., closing at 12:30 a.m. Monday through Wednesday, 1:30 a.m. Thursday, 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 p.m. Sunday. 860-404-2074, facebook.com/taprockbeerbar.

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